The Drill

A friend of mine describes the Christian life using a military metaphor that is both helpful and enlightening….I know – what a bargain!

drill
Not this kind of drill!

Being a Christian is about learning the basics:  Prayer; reading (i.e. exegeting and interpreting) scripture; Christ-likeness; learning the Fruits of the Spirit; living the sermon on the Mount; renewal of the mind; developing spiritual habits formed in the furnace of Trinitarian relationship, etc.  These basics are like the “basic drill” an army unit performs to stay sharp.  In other words, the existential reality for the army is the drill performed in peace-time: Marching; cleaning; inspection; fitness; and so on and so forth (one doesn’t want to push a military metaphor too far – there’s enough of that going on already)!

But the basics serve the special missions:  Either planned or spontaneous mission/evangelism; specific seasons of ministry; short or long-term mission; local or national or international.  In short, an Olympic athlete’s gold medal was forged on the running tracks of Trinidad; the swimming pools of Portugal and the cycling arenas of Argentina – the actual final in which it was won is almost a moot point!  The basic drill serves the special mission.

Continue reading “The Drill”

The 11th Plague: Pornography

Free CandyOver the years I have mentored and counselled many young men and older-to-middle-aged men on the addictions they have regarding internet pornography.  I am convinced this has to be at the centre of all discipleship discussions and in no way shirked by ministers and anyone in leadership responsibility.

In every case I have assumed it is happening in the lives of these men and I have never been wrong (in this at least)!  The prevalence of shame and guilt linked to this addiction is destroying not just marriages and relationships, but people as individuals.

shame

Pornography is the ultimate locust plague and the newest form of the Golden Calf; the ultimate consumerist need; a dehumanising consumption of humanity – by humanity – on a scale hitherto unknown.

It presents itself as something good, something delicious, but it is not; it may look like a nice cake but it is horse manure wrapped in icing that is laced with despair and brokennness.

Yes I know pornography is as old as the skies.  Yes I know the complexities of the nature-nurture debates and the desire-affections debates and the secret Victorian obsessions and the Canaanite fertility symbols that demonstrate in one way or another this is not new:  mankind is obsessed with sex.  But what we face today as a “postmodern” people in a global world is new.  Something has shifted, and the statistics below merely highlight the beginnings of this new-(but old)-world-order.

We are now beyond the territory of the erotic (marital) sex of the Song of Solomon, and we have walked blindfolded into the horror show of Ezekiel 16 and 23.  Some may say that since this blog is a Christian blog, that I am some sort of lemon-sucking prude, a proper Victorian anti-sex Puritan.  Well I’m not.  The statistics below (from but one country) will contain the detail of what and why I am against this vile trade in people who are made in the image of God.

The Guardian online recently published an excellent article by Laura Bates entitled ‘Rape is not a punchline or a way to sell Christmas presents‘.  She writes,

“In fact, there is evidence of some links between the portrayal of women as sexual objects and attitudes that underpin violence against women and girls. The government-commissioned Sexualisation of Young People review found evidence to suggest a clear link between consumption of sexualised images, a tendency to view women as objects and the acceptance of aggressive attitudes and behaviours as the norm. And the 2010 report by the American Psychological Association on the Sexualisation of Girls detailed links between sexually objectifying images of women and girls in mainstream media and significantly higher levels of acceptance of rape myths, victim-blaming, sexual harassment and interpersonal violence.”

I find it astonishing we need government-commissioned reviews to reach this plainly obvious conclusion.  This runs in tandem with the idiotic advertising strategies of various corporations around the world to suggest and insinuate rape and abuse of women in order to sell their grubby wares!  It should take more than public shock and complaint to realise this; or is the saturation of our minds by advertising companies now so dense that enticements to rape and abuse are the thing that will keep our economies strong?  In fact, “woe to you” if that’s what it takes to run a business in profit, and maintain a strong economy.

BTW, this post is not about anyone’s right “to do what they want” or whatever narcissistic neo-liberal construct of society you choose to adopt (as though anything one individual does is completely independent of anything and everyone around them (whether you are a Christian or not) – what nonsense)!  It is simply about the fallout from this industry that is destroying real lives on an industrial scale.  

Continue reading “The 11th Plague: Pornography”

How the ‘Temptations of Jesus’ relate to everthing about you, society and the world

My friend, theologian Rob Knowles, who has featured on this blog before, has allowed me to publish his basic outline of the Temptations of Jesus and how they are a paradigm for every Christian disciple of Christ.  PDF available here:  The 3 Temptations of Jesus Christ.

What we will find here, is a profoundly insightful hermeneutical work on something that (big assumption alert) close to all readers of the Bible kind of skim over, and I write this placing myself firmly in that category.

Rob has kicked me up the exegetical backside with this excellent study, and if it’s too long for you to read, I make no apology save that this is one of the very ‘conditions’ that will be exposed in the study.  If this doesn’t get your interpretive juices flowing, I don’t know what will.

I hope you enjoy….

temptation-of-christ

The Temptations of Jesus Christ: Explanation

1. Overview and Preliminary Points
The temptation narratives occur in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), but not in John, and are only present in embryonic form in Mark. Matthew preserves the original order of the temptations, whereas Luke alters the order because Luke’s focus is often on the temple, and so he wishes to emphasize the temple by putting the temptation that features the temple last. Below, as in the Bible study, we will follow Matthew’s ordering of the temptations.


First of all, we may note that commentators stress that Mark’s account of the temptation of Jesus may hint at parallels and contrasts between Jesus’ temptation and that which was suffered by Adam and Eve. If Adam and Eve fail to resist the tempter, with the result that Paradise becomes a wilderness, then the Second Adam enters that wilderness, resists the tempter successfully, and so restores the wilderness to its original paradisiacal condition.


Second, commentators also stress that Matthew’s and Luke’s temptation narratives parallel and contrast with Israel’s testing in their desert wanderings, where many argue for this inter-textual relationship with respect to Mark as well. If Israel were baptised in the Sea of Reeds, Jesus was Baptised in the Jordan; if Israel was then tested in the Sinai, Jesus was then tested in the Negev; and if Israel went on to inherit a Promised Land, and a Ministry (in the case of the Levites), Jesus went on to inherit the Kingdom of God and a Ministry too. The contrast comes in that whereas Israel failed to resist Satan, Jesus succeeded. The desert, then, as a harsh place of testing, is also God’s place of preparation for the reception of inheritance. Israel’s failure to resist temptation delayed – but did not ultimately overrule – God’s fulfilment of divine promise.


Third, in 1 Corinthians 10 Paul parallels the Christian experience with Israel’s desert wanderings. Thus, by implication, Jesus’ temptation experience tells us something about Christian experience too. As we are tempted, so Jesus was tempted. As Israel often failed the test, so we often fail the test. But, if this is so, how can we see ourselves – our failures – in Israel’s behaviour? And how can we see ourselves – our successes – in Jesus’ behaviour? How do the relevant passages of Scripture interpret us?


Fourth, John the Baptist also tells us that Jesus will baptise us “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; Luke 3:16). But, if fire signifies refinement, or discipline, and if the desert signifies the place where God refines and disciplines us, then we may even draw parallels between seasons of discipline within the Christian life and the temptation narratives. As Jesus was tested for a season, so we – having received a baptism of fire into a season of discipline – after we have “suffered for a little while” will be “made strong, firm, and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). And St. Peter should know, for he himself was handed over to Satan, the sifter, to be sifted like wheat, where sifting, like fire, is a purification or refinement motif. And if even apostles are handed over to Satan during special seasons of discipline – (and Satan cannot be made to “flee”, even by exorcists, during such seasons) – then will God not hand us over to Satan as well when we need a specific “sifting” kind of discipline? Of course he will! And during such times, will not the devil tempt us in every manner possible? Of course he will!


And, of course, fifth, if Christians experience discipline individually, then churches experience it corporately according to Revelation 2 and 3, as the risen Lord specifically states. The Bible is not individualistic, unlike us modernists, and so can mean groups when we think only of individuals. According to one Old Testament scholar, what would have struck Jesus’ original Jewish audience as hilarious about the rich man deciding to build bigger barns for his grain was the fact that he decided what to do by himself, rather than by taking it to the elders and the community.


In other words, Adam and Eve, Israel, Jesus, individual Christians, and Christian churches all experience baptism, testing, and inheritance. It is a revealed pattern for what spiritual life is. If spiritual life, positively speaking, is love for God and neighbour, then spiritual life, negatively speaking, is about resisting material self-empowerment or “self-feeding” in relation to the physical appetites, about resisting spiritual self-empowerment or seeking to “control God” or god-like power in relation to being rescued from our predicament in this world, and about resisting sociological self-empowerment or seeking to “enthrone self” or “exalt self” socially or competitively, whether overtly or covertly.


To these three temptations we now turn, because we have fallen into them very badly. And as one famous Welshman once said: “There’s no news… like bad news”.

Continue reading “How the ‘Temptations of Jesus’ relate to everthing about you, society and the world”

Doormat Theology

Some random aphorist thoughts – the product of walking my dogs!

 

Grace as ‘Great Riches At Christ’s Expense’ is nearer to pietistic wish-wash rather than ‘God’s holy love hating sin and redeeming it in Christ’s cross, and creating in the penitent sinner new life and moral amendment.’ Though as an acronym the latter is rubbish.

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Atonement is not only a film starring Kierra Knightly but the great power of God working salvation for the entire cosmic order.

 

Love is not merely anthropic love for another person (who we’ve already decided we like and therefore ‘will love’).

 

Salvation is not a meagre ‘tipping in’ to ‘heaven’. The older son had an ‘I’m in’ theology, and look at the state of his heart!

 

Pastoral Care is not the flip or flop of a liver lilied do-gooder or crowd pleaser (who actually never really does ‘do good’ nor ‘please crowds’).

 

Sin is not ‘other people or countires’ nor is it a meaningless philosophical abstraction, even if you really do believe the comfy suburban mantra: I’m not that bad thank you very much.

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Prophecy is not sloganeering, be it political or religious. Oh, and prophets actually know their Bibles, especially Obadiah chapter 2.

Continue reading “Doormat Theology”

Drifting?

just-do-itThe Christian life is not easy.  It takes determined, hard graft, long-term view of life. Many people fall under the spell of easy-living, and for some unearthly reason, when some people become Christians, they expect their life to be one of ease, one sweet breeze.  Where oh where did they get that from?  What dark corner of the heart hides such a banal and idle sentiments?

But this is not so.

Not so, say the Scriptures, not so says Jesus, not so says Paul, not so says the witness of the New Testament.  Hebrews is a book of amazing theology, great exhortation, but also some sober warnings.  The very first warning says, “We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Hebrews 2:1).

In other words, if we do not “pay attention”, we will drift away…..away from God, away from Christ and all His salvation splendour.  Not drifting away requires a determined, hard-graft, long-term view of life.  The Christian life is much more about growing potatoes rather than eating chips; it is much more about feasting like kings rather than snacking like peasants or starving like fools

Carson-PlenaryOnce again, Don Carson nails it…..

“People do not drift toward Holiness.

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;

we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;

we drift toward superstition and call it faith.

We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;

we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;

we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

 For the Love of God, p.23

CROSS

The Secret

We do not praise God because He has caused us to triumph;

but because to praise God is to triumph.

 Father Benson SSJE

If you’d never heard anything else about God, this just might be enough to live a life well.

Praise God!

Communion & Discipleship

Balthasar

One of the things that the Reformers wrestled back from the Catholic Church was how to do church!  From complexity to simplicity, from pomposity to humility, from monotone to multi-coloured, from virtual blindness and deafness to 3D vision with surround sound.  The Sacraments took centre stage in the raging debates of the 16th century from Martin Luther onwards!  While the Reformation rightly challenged, and in a sense judged, the imagination-free zone of the entrenched Catholic cultures of Europe, the Bible was reigniting a God-imaged imagination that had, by-and-large been lost to the masses, kept and guarded (and forgotten) by pope and priest. Continue reading “Communion & Discipleship”

Fisher of Men

FishofMen

“When Jesus described [what it means to follow him], often his invitation to it sounded more like a warning than a sales pitch.  He spoke of ‘counting the cost’ of selling all and ‘taking up the cross’ to follow him” says Dr Paul Brand.

Wes Brown’s song “Fisher of Men” captures this and more quite exquisitely, highlighting all the tensions within the Christian life, the joys and sorrows, the drama and truth, the blessings and sufferings.  The song is one of my favourites and will be played at my funeral (whenever that is)!  Below are the words:  Enjoy!

Fisher of Men

It’s running, and walking, and fighting, and turning the other cheek;

It’s giving, receiving, it’s hoping, being bold and being meek;

It’s laying down your nets, it’s laying down your life, to take up the cross, and follow the fisher of men.

What does it mean to be born-again?  What does it mean to be grafted in to the Body of Christ?

To be conformed into the image of the One, who lay down His life, so that you and I might live.

It’s living, and dying, and rising, reward and sacrifice;

It’s sharing, the blessings, the righteousness of Christ;

It’s laying down your nets, it’s laying down your life, to take up the cross – pick up your cross – and follow the fisher of men.

It’s winning and losing and trying…

It’s living and dying and rising….

Words and Music by Wes Brown 1995

 

 

Halloween has nothing on Reformation Day

Reformation Day

“The Reformation set free the question and nature of the church from the question of who belongs to it.  This was a decisive stage.  Roman Catholicism and the pre-Reformation church had thought that the question of the nature of the church would be answered by a definition of its extent.  The Reformation, and particularly the Lutheran concept, first says what the church is and leaves the question of its boundaries open.

It’s first concern is not the unveiling of the divine mystery of who belongs to the church, and who does not, the question of election and rejection, it is not aimed first and foremost at judging and distinguishing people; the most important thing is that the manifest saving act of God, the present Christ, his Word and sacrament, should be seen and adored.  There are no theoretical statements about the saved and the lost, there is no verdict “This person belongs to the church, this person does not,” but simply the joyful cry of those who have been granted a share in a great, astonishing gift, “Here is the gospel!”  “Here are the pure sacraments!”  “Here is the church!”  “Come here!” Continue reading “Halloween has nothing on Reformation Day”

Discipleship in Church

making-disciples

In his brilliant book The Way of the Heart, Henri Nouwen outlines the difficulty many churches face in the genuine need to disciple followers of Jesus.  He writes,

“We simply go along with the many ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord.  People must be motivated to come to church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised, and above all everyone must be happy.  Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life.”  p.10

Now, discipleship in church is one of my biggest bug-bears because I find it is nigh on impossible to actually do.  What I mean is that I feel it is [almost] impossible to do intentionally and [actually] impossible to do accidentally (unless you are in the wonderful position of having a handful of Christians in your church who really do want to grow in their faith, and boy, do they let you know they want to!  The simple fact is, too many other ‘things’ crowd in.  Yes, I know you could say I’ve got to prioritize, but I assure you, I already have.  The church itself seems to mitigate against her core purpose!

If the church spent the time she has devoted to the homosexuality issue or the gender issue onto the discipleship ‘issue’, I wonder how the church would look?  That’s not to say those issue’s aren’t important, they are and we need to think about them very carefully, but the church is losing out, losing ground, losing time and losing people because we’re not doing too well the very thing we have been called to do.

All of this comes out of my own observations and frustrations.  I’m not throwing stones in glass houses, nor pointing a boney Pharisaical finger at my brothers and sisters, demanding that they “disciple people better!”  No!  What I am saying comes from my own hearts desire to be first and foremost a disciple of Jesus Christ.  To allow others to disciple me, to have others allow me to disciple them.

The problem is, as already stated, the church, in general, doesn’t do this too well.  That’s partly tied to the problem of institution outlined in a previous post, but it’s also a general unwillingness among the populace of our Sunday gatherings to not allow others to speak gospel-truth into each others lives – this is one reason why that group always gathers for coffee over there and never speaks to anyone, and why this bunch here shoot off straight after the service without even a toodle-pip!  And have you ever wondered why the same people always do the washing up?  So they don’t have to talk to anybody but their rota buddies!

Discipleship must surely be a conscious objective, or as per the current theological buzz-word “intentional”.  Too much time is spent in our lives together smoothing over hurts and wounds; with multiple attempts to prevent people being angry, unforgiving or whatever.  We all kind of smile knowingly when we say ministry is a tough place to be, being hurt by the church n’all, but actually, that’s quite sick!

Why?  Because Jesus said we are to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile – and that’s regarding our enemies!  How can ministry be so tough and painful?  Surely it’s because our brothers and sisters are not discipled in the ways of Jesus to know that if we turn our cheeks for our enemies, what does it mean to a brother or sister?

I think intentional discipleship has the power to close the door to petty, ill-disciplined and loveless lives, into a way of life that is real, true and dynamically loving, not institutionally static.  [NB. please note, I am not anti-institutional, I’m in one and I love it, but so was Martin Luther and look what happened to him].

I don’t want to leave the discipleship of myself or God’s people, especially those in my care, to para-church organisations, which is the prevailing default position.  I love para-church organisations, but I do believe, if the church was doing it’s job, fulfilling it’s calling, would there really be a need for them?  I don’t think so!

I want to disciple people, that’s what God has called me, us, to do!  I don’t want second-class citizens in our churches.  I don’t want arguments about pedantic secondary issues (yes, I know they’re important), but I want to journey with people in their faith and for them to go on to disciple others.  Henri Nouwen is surely right, but I so want him to be wrong!

PS  I would love to hear from you if you are getting this right, doing well or whatever.  

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